Closing the Gap Fails the Human Rights Test

October 10, 2012

MEDIA RELEASE: Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Closing the Gap Fails the Human Rights Test

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (?ALHR?) welcomes the release of the first report from the Northern Territory (NT) Coordinator-General, Ms Olga Haven on 24 September 2012. The report explores in depth government expenditure, programs and service delivery in the NT and highlights how the Australian and NT Governments can do more to better respect the rights of Aboriginal peoples in the NT.

Stephen Keim, President of ALHR, said, ?ALHR are particularly concerned about the NT Coordinator-General?s findings in relation to decision-making of Aboriginal peoples and how this relates to their human rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which Australia endorsed in 2009.?

The report focuses on four major themes: transparency and accountability; the balance between crisis and development initiatives under the NT Intervention and Stronger Futures; the lack of long-term planning and capacity development in Aboriginal towns and the marginalisation of Aboriginal peoples in decision-making; and resource allocation.
The report finds that following the demise of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the centralisation of local government administration and the proliferation of government ?advisory committees? lacking tangible decision-making authority, Aboriginal peoples in the NT have lost control over their own circumstances.  It also notes the dearth of formal Aboriginal representation in any of the key governance roles that lead decision making and priority setting in Aboriginal communities.
Under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Articles 3 and 4) Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination, and in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs.

Stephen Keim said that, ?under Article 19 States are also required to consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.? Mr Keim continued, ?ALHR believe it is important for both levels of government to reflect on their international obligations under the UNDRIP, and to work with Aboriginal peoples in the NT to promote and build representative institutions which will allow self-determination through self-government.?

Also of significance is the report?s focus on the importance of culture as a social determinant of health as outlined in the UNDRIP Articles 11, (1) and (2), which protect the maintenance and practice of Indigenous cultures.

Mr Keim said, ?It is important that commitments by both levels of government in the areas of community, safety, housing, education, economic development and health are viewed not only as targets for government service delivery, but as human rights obligations under the UNDRIP. The NT Coordinator-General?s report makes this link very clear.? Mr Keim continued, ?by using the UNDRIP as a lens through which to discuss government remote service delivery in the NT, the NT Coordinator-General has highlighted the important connection between human rights and Closing the Gap.?


Stephen Keim, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
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